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Vermont Gov. Scott criticizes Legislature’s budget proposal

Vermont Statehouse and Governor Phil Scott
photos by Pat Bradley
Vermont Statehouse and Governor Phil Scott

Vermont’s governor criticized the legislature’s budget proposal during his weekly briefing this afternoon.

Governor Phil Scott began his briefing recalling that his January budget asked legislators and his administration to focus on fundamentals and consider the impact and cost of every decision. The Republican noted that he had advised, due to an influx of federal money and state surpluses, that the state would be able to increase economic equity and make long-term investments.

“We also made sure there was state money to leverage federal funding for the next three to four years. But, unfortunately, the budget coming out of House Appropriations cuts or removes almost every single initiative," Scott said. "Not only that but they also increase the state General Fund budget over the last year by 12 percent.”

Governor Scott has proposed a total budget of $8.4 billion while the House budget runs to $8.5 billion. The governor’s budget allocates $2.3 billion to the General Fund while the House puts in $2.4 billion. Scott proposes $2.079 billion for the Education Fund and the House allocates $2.099 billion. The Transportation Fund totals $360 million in the House version compared to the governor’s proposed $335 million.

Scott assailed the legislature’s budget, saying three initiatives, including the proposed Clean Heat Standard, could add a half-billion dollars in costs annually plus adds $60 million more than he had proposed in ongoing expenditures.

“I think I’ve proven over the years that I’m not an alarmist," the governor said. "But I have to say I’m very concerned with the direction we’re heading in. And it’s not because some of my proposals have been cut. I understand the process. But this year feels different. In my opinion if this budget passes with all these big ticket initiatives that come along with it all at once it has the potential to hurt Vermont in both the short and long term.”

Scott disagrees with the approach the legislature is taking with regard to Paid Family Leave. The House is considering a bill creating a mandatory program paid through a payroll tax while the Scott administration is implementing a voluntary program for state employees.

“A Paid Family Leave program isn’t going to be easy to implement," Scott said. "This is going to be as complicated as unemployment and we would have to build a system that mimics that in order to best serve Vermonters. I’m saying there are entities outside of state government that do this for a living and we wouldn’t have to build a new structure. So I’m in favor of going with that approach and, regardless of what happens, I don’t think that state government needs to be a part of the oversight.”

In the wake of the latest school shooting in Tennessee, Commissioner of Education Dan French explained that they have recommended that the legislature make behavioral threat assessment mandatory in all schools.

“We had a hard time justifying how some schools could be more safe than others essentially. And all schools need to be safe," French said. "And I’m quite optimistic, as I know our team is and DPS (Department of Public Safety), that behavior threat assessment is a really proactive element of our layered response and it’s really important that all schools engage in it. So we look forward to continue to work in partnership with the General Assembly. But from my perspective behavioral threat assessment should be a mandatory approach.”

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